Biomedical engineering doctoral student wins prestigious award

The photo diary that Charlotte Chaze submitted with her application for the University of Delaware’s Laird Fellowship depicts her hiking in the Adirondacks, kayaking on Lake Louise, motorbiking through Vietnam, playing the guitar, and refereeing for Lego League. She also included shots of a MacBook she repaired and a motorbike she built.

Chaze is exactly the type of student the Laird committee members are looking for when they select the fellowship winner. Recipients of the 40-year-old award — which honors the memory of mechanical engineering alumnus George W. Laird — are encouraged to engage in broadening intellectual pursuits that may or may not directly apply to their chosen field.

A doctoral student in biomedical engineering at UD, Chaze admits that her path to the field was not straightforward.

“After switching majors a few times and graduating with a chemistry degree, I moved to Germany and then Albuquerque for jobs in neuroimaging and biomedical engineering,” she says. “I loved my new skillset, so I applied to biomedical engineering programs.”

“Before starting at UD, I took a two-month solo camping trip through the U.S. and Canada with the hopes of finding a deeper understanding of myself,” she continues.

“Throughout those two months I hiked more than 150 miles, drove over 13,000 miles, camped in 17 national forests, visited 18 states and two Canadian provinces, and figured out that it takes a lifetime — not two months — to figure out who you are.”

Chaze still isn’t sure what she wants to be when she grows up, but her early love for science persists. Her doctoral research, which she is conducting in the Mechanical Neuroimaging Lab with assistant professor Curtis Johnson, focuses on the brain.

She is using a technique called magnetic resonance elastography to quantify the viscoelasticity of the entire brain. Viscoelasticity describes materials that exhibit both viscous and elastic characteristics when undergoing deformation. In the brain, changes in viscoelastic properties can be associated with disease and changes in function.

Chaze is no stranger to research. She has already co-authored six journal publications as well as 15 posters and presentations on work carried out at the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, the Max Planck Institute in Germany and Towson University in Maryland, where she earned her undergraduate degree.

She has also volunteered at places and events ranging from an AIDS alliance in Uganda to a balloon festival in New Mexico, and her professional affiliations run the gamut from science and global issues to sailing and music.

“Charlotte is a Renaissance woman, with curiosity and intellectual depth that epitomizes the goals of the Laird Fellowship and also the kind of student we want in our doctoral program,” says department chair and professor Dawn Elliott. “We are all very proud of her.”

Chaze is the fourth biomedical engineering student to win the Laird Fellowship over the past five years. The others are Axel Moore (2013), Keely Heintz (2015) and Danielle Valcourt (2016). Sarah Geiger, a doctoral student in materials science and engineering, was the 2014 winner.

About the Laird Fellowship

The George W. Laird Merit Fellowship is given to honor the memory of George W. Laird. He earned an A.B. degree at Hamilton College in 1964. He then attended the University of Delaware, where he was awarded a B.M.E. degree with highest honors in 1968 and an M.M.A.E. degree in 1971. On September 6, 1977, at the age of 35, George W. Laird was killed in a tragic accident.

Determined that something positive should come from this seemingly senseless loss, his family and friends established a fund to support a major fellowship, based on merit, that will provide a source of strong motivation to students working toward graduate degrees in the College of Engineering. The generous support of more than 300 donors has made this award possible.